Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Adam Ondra and the Dawn Wall: Veni Vidi Vici

Just about the only bright spot in the unfolding catastrophe that the Trump-era United States is becoming was the autumn visit to Yosemite by Czech master climber Adam Ondra. His plan was to attempt the Dawn Wall, something he promptly got started on, going ground up to investigate the climb and doing substantial amounts of free-climbing on the route including an onsight of most of the last third of the climb. He worked in a trip up the Nose with his dad, in only 17 hours, during this phase as well. After further work on the crux section of the route, roughly pitches 10-16 he embarked on his single push ascent and in eight days was at the top, having cleanly led every pitch free.

Interestingly, in comparison with the media frenzy that accompanied the first ascent, the major source of specific info about the climb was Adam's Instagram posts via his own account, that of Black Diamond and his belayer and more informal photographer Pavel Blazek. Indeed the tone of what media there was seemed to anticipate a comeuppance of sorts, as though Adam would be humbled by the peculiar nature of Yosemite granite and the sheer difficulty of the route. The New York Times, which appears to be uncertainly grappling with its future in the "post-truth" era, had a story on Ondra which came in for justified criticism for both its title and its tone. The title "Adam Ondra Expected a Short, Hard Climb. Now He’ll Be Happy Just to Finish." implied that somehow Ondra had come to the Valley expecting the proverbial walk in the park but had been humbled, a sentiment that came through elsewhere, where the reconnaissance ascent was described as an "aid climb" instead of what it actually was. And of course there was the usual "he's just a sport climber/boulderer/comp climber" internet commentary. One writer stated "It’s safe to say that it’ll be a long time before anyone repeats this rock climb." That was about a year and a half ago.

In the end, despite  the qualifiers and naysayers, the fact is he took the route down in eight days with no real problems to speak of and with plenty of time left still for an onsight attempt on the Salathe Wall. It was done with minimal support or fanfare. It was done using mostly ground-up tactics. Adam was gracious, crediting Tommy and Kevin for their vision and acknowledging the effort and difficulty of the climb, not to mention its boldness. Yet, it's worth saying, he wasn't the only one doing amazing things on El Cap this fall. The Zodiac (5.13d) had a third free ascent, the Dihedral Wall (5.14a) saw a long-overdue 2nd ascent, the Pre-Muir had a 4th ascent and Freerider was rope-soloed free in a day. Oddly none of these were accomplished by "pro" Americans. Where were they? Good question. Climbing boulders in Colorado, some, though still no American repeat of Hypnotized Minds, despite a rapid ascent by Rustam Gelmanov in grim summer conditions. Ticking routes in Rifle? Sure, though Mark Anderson doing Shadowboxing underlined that Rifle 8c+/9a is hardly the preserve of fulltime climbers anymore. And of course there's the Red River Gorge in fall. So what's up? Is everyone too depressed by the election? Too busy staying current on their Snapchat posts?

The Instagram/Facebook game may be strong for Americans but all the social media marketing in the world cannot make up for this truth. Once again the bar has been raised substantially and the question has to be asked whether there is anyone ready to match it? I'll be interested to see who rises to the occasion.

For more insight into Ondra's mindset read the interview I did with him a while back